Domestic violence rises as funding for defenders declines | Local News
At a time when domestic violence reports have reached record highs, local victim advocates lack funding.
More than 27,000 incidents – murders, sex crimes, threats and assaults – were reported to law enforcement in Oklahoma in 2020, according to Oklahoma Watch. Assault and assault and battery made up about 80% of those cases, while 61 Oklahoma residents were murdered by their attacker. Although the number of incidents has increased, funding for domestic violence agencies across the state has declined.
For several years, Help In Crisis has received much of its funding from a federal grant. Victims of Crime Act dollars have declined in recent years, however, as the agency has made smaller cuts. HIC Executive Director Laura Kuester said she knew as this year approached the coffers would be even smaller.
“We got a little warning, but I still think everyone was clinging to the hope that it wouldn’t be as bad as they said it was,” she said. “Well, it ended up being a 30% reduction, which is pretty catastrophic for us. “
This represents over $ 100,000 that the agency will not receive this year. The lack of federal dollars pouring into the state stems from a shift in priority in recent years on crime. Former White House administrations have focused on white collar crime. Former President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has turned to more blue-collar workers.
“These types of crimes and criminals usually don’t pay a lot of restitution because they don’t have it,” Kuester said. “While administrations before – a lot of these presidents’ priorities were on white collar crime. So you would have pharmaceutical companies that should have paid millions of dollars in compensation. That is where the funding for the Victims of Crime Act comes from.
To make matters worse, the pandemic canceled the agency’s biggest fundraiser last year. And this year only one fundraising event took place. HIC was able to get money from the pandemic relief funds, but the dollars are limited to specific uses.
“With our VOCA funding, the total amount we had to cut from our budget forced me to lay off three people. Out of 25 lawyers, I had to fire three people and I will not be able to fill these positions. So we have 23 employees now and we cover a service area of four counties, ”said Kuester.
With families staying more at home during the pandemic, victims have been left with their abusers for longer periods. Such situations can prevent people from seeking help. Once people started to venture out of the house, calls for Help In Crisis increased and staff have been busy ever since.
Kuester, who sits on the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Death Review Board, said she expects last year’s death toll to be higher than the previous year . In addition, the number of sexual assaults in the past year has totaled more than the previous two years combined. This weekend alone, three SANE exams were performed in the hospital, which is one way to gather evidence after a sexual assault.
The HIC hotline has been stable, and the shelter is currently at full capacity. But staff do their best to make sure victims receive the services they need.
“The last thing I want to do is have to tell a victim of domestic violence that I can’t help them. I refuse to do it, ”Kuester said. “So we’re working around that, and some people have to take more than one job. It’s just tight.
With budget cuts and a lack of fundraising, HIC is starting to think outside the box. So, to raise money, she and others plan to hike the Ozark Highlands Trail, which is 218 miles long. The group will travel approximately 15 miles per day, for 12 to 15 days. HIC is therefore asking for help to “put fuel in our tank,” Kuester said.
“Whether it’s $ 5, $ 500 or $ 5,000, every dollar is going to fill the void we have right now, so that we can continue to provide services and we never have to tell a victim that we don’t. don’t. I don’t have the funds to help them, ”Kuester said. “I realize that I am about to take on the biggest challenge of my life. But if you think of a victim who leaves everything they know and goes out of their comfort zone, no matter how unhealthy it is, a lot of them come out and take risks with just the things on their backs. . So if they can do it, I can do it for the agency.
To donate to Help In Crisis for the next trek, text “takeastep” to 44321. For other ways to help or for more information call 918-456-0673.